It’s not likely I’ll soon praise the presidency of Jimmy Carter, if for no other reason than dad would disown me. He is not a fan of the Georgia peanut farmer. But Jimmy Carter the servant leader, well, I have no doubts dad would agree that few – if any – former presidents have had a more positive impact on the world around them.
You, Kind Reader, are probably aware Carter has told the world about his cancer. He’s 90, and recently had surgery to remove cancer on his liver. Now the stuff has spread to his brain. The doctors are optimistic about his prognosis, but Carter announced Thursday (Aug. 20) he would significantly pull back from his work with The Carter Center.
The center was formed in 1982 by Jimmy and Rosalynn with support from Emory University.
“Waging Peace. Fighting Disease. Building Hope.” That’s the motto of The Carter Center. Pretty much covers what this world needs. (Although I thought about suggesting “Fixing Congress” but realized Carter was bold and optimistic, not crazy.) And there is some biblical “faith, hope and charity” stuff in that motto. Mr. Carter, like the scripture author noted, has certainly shown that charity – love – is the greatest.
By way of comparison, the motto over at the Clinton Foundation appears to be “Creating Partnerships of Purpose.” That’s damn-near vacuous. The Reagan Foundation doesn’t seem to have a unifying motto, but they do have a 2016 Ronald Reagan calendar you can get for a $40 donation, and the Reagan Country Barbecue Cookout & Dance is set for Aug. 28. Also, couldn’t find a unifying motto for the George W. Bush Presidential Center.
In the Thursday announcement, Carter responded to a question by saying that if he had been elected to a second four-year term The Carter Center may not have been formed or may now be years behind on what has been accomplished.
“I wish I had sent one more helicopter to get the hostages, and we would have rescued them and I would have been re-elected,” Carter said in explaining that his biggest regret was the failed mission to rescue the American hostages in Iran. “But that may have interfered with the foundation of the Carter Center. If I had to choose between four more years and the Carter Center, I think I would choose the Carter Center.”
Carter also on Thursday admitted to being disappointed he wasn’t able to do more to secure a more stable Middle East. He said the region is more troubled now than ever.
Prior to the cancer creep, his schedule on Thursday was to travel to Nepal to help build more Habitat for Humanity houses. The man is 90. He still travels to places where things like electricity and sanitation aren’t always options. And don’t think he just shows up with a hammer for a photo op. Anyone familiar with his work knows he puts on a tool belt and nail bag and gets after it.
To be sure, those who can’t or won’t look past the politics of the man still smirk at what they consider Carter’s naiveté. Peace? There will never be peace, they’ll say. You can’t fight disease and build hope in third world countries where dictators and people of other (gasp!) faiths steal or destroy whatever relief we send them. As it is with President Obama, conservatives also are eager to remind us that Carter is not a good friend to Israel. The bitter political soul will tell you that Carter does all that habitat house building and other liberal bleeding heart stuff to make up for being a one-term president who could only capture 41% of the vote in his re-election bid.
OK. Maybe so. But so what? My less sophisticated lens is impressed with “Waging Peace. Fighting Disease. Building Hope.” Sure. We’re not likely to ever have global peace or be disease free or provide hope to every troubled soul. But why not try to move the needle? Carter and his center have moved many needles. There is some irony in considering that his post-presidential legacy may far outshine all other 20th century presidents.
The Carter Center is largely responsible for reducing Guinea worm disease from about 3.5 million cases in 1986 to now under 150. It could soon be the first human disease eradicated since smallpox. There are thousands of communities in Africa with a better health-care delivery system because of The Carter Center. Thousands. The Carter Center has monitored hundreds of elections. Carter has written 29 books.
The Carter Center was a major partner on efforts to save millions of people in Africa and Latin America from river blindness, which is caused by a parasite. Millions. On Thursday Carter said his center will make medical treatment possible for an estimated 71 million people in 2015. 71 million.
“Waging Peace. Fighting Disease. Building Hope.”
Those who say America was better off because Carter had only one term in the White House are only half right. Or half wrong. The evidence clearly indicates that hundreds of millions of people worldwide are better off because of a man who suffered a bitter election defeat but never retreated from his faith, hope and charity.